According to a report by the International Herald Tribune (IHT), Iranian authorities are currently on an “offensive” to tackle the increasing crime rates in the country. Iran has seen a steady increase in crimes, and specifically violent crimes, in the wake of spiraling unemployment and inflation. According to the IHT, the dire straits of the Iranian economy are the result of crippling sanctions and what the IHT call “government mismanagement”. The new crime offensive involves harsher penalties, and, mostly notably, public executions. But will these measures really stop anyone? Specifically, will they stop the desperate?
Two twenty year old men highlighted by the IHT both gave economic reasons for their crimes; one claimed to need money for an operation for his mother, the other one merely cited poverty. Both were hung in Central Tehran Park on Sunday, with a crowd of approximately 300 people looking on. Whether these two men were motivated by economic desperate I cannot rightly say, but it is safe to say that many Iranian youth are desperate, and that they are disproportionately involved in crime. The US-led sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy are hitting younger people especially hard, reports on Iranian Youth Unemployment figures released in the past year range between 20% and 60%, and most of them that I have seen show the Iranian Youth Unemployment rate much higher than the national average. When youth face such tough times with no prospect of alleviation, what can we expect? How high must the penalties be for them to overlook the needs to private food, shelter, and for their mothers health? How high would it be for us?
Yes, there need to be laws, and yes they need to be followed. But just like locks, harsh penalties do more to deter the honest and the comfortable than they do to deter the desperate. Rather than worrying themselves with putting on a show in central park – a show whose audience was (according to the IHT) dominated by the family of both victims and the condemned, and was most probably largely ignored by the intended audience – why doesn’t the Iranian Government focus instead on the root problems? They should focus on appeasing the West to help alleviate the sanctions that are tanking the economy. They should focus on the “government mismanagement” that is (allegedly) serving to exacerbate the problem. There is zero evidence that harsh and humiliating penalties deter the desperate, in fact there is a lot of evidence to the contrary (see Australia’s Asylum Seeker conundrums). If the Iranian government wants to tackle the rising crime rate then they have to tackle the source of the desperation.